8 Feb 2009, 1:00pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Fuelish in the Land of Oz

For the last 40,000 years (at least, some say 60,000) the residents of Australia have been “burning off the bush.” Anthropogenic fire was perfected in Australia, if not invented there.

In the Aborigine, Australian fire had discovered an extraordinary ally. Not only did ignition sources multiply and spread, but fire itself persisted through wet season and dry, across grassland and forest, in desert and on mountain. Lightning was a highly seasonal, episodic ignition source; the Aboriginal firestick was an eternal flame. — Stephen J. Pyne. Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia. 1991, Henry Holt and Co.

Anthropogenic fire tamed the bush by frequently removing the pyrophytic vegetation of eucalypt and scrub, the unique botany and biota descended from the Mesolithic super-continent of Gondwana. Frequent fire set by residents steeped in traditional ecological knowledge controlled fuel build-ups, promoted landscape mosaics, and prevented continental megafires that could have severely compromised human survival.

That ancient wisdom has been all but lost; the most modern of Aussies are steeped in eco-babble and “natural fire” mythologies. And the piper has come home to roost, so to speak, again and again.

The latest Australian fire bust, born in untreated fuels, has claimed 84 lives and counting as of this morning:

Victoria’s bushfire toll hits 84 as fires continue to spread

from The Australian, Feb. 8, 2009 [here]

THE death toll from Victoria’s bushfires has risen to 84, amid grave fears for towns in the state’s northeast as fires continue to rage out of control.

Five people died at Flowerdale, two people at Hazeldene and three at Taggerty, while two more people were confirmed dead at Kinglake and a further person died at St Andrews. A person from Yea died in hospital.

The toll already surpasses the 28 in South Australia and the 47 Victorians that died in the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, while the Black Friday blaze in 1939 claimed 71 lives. …

The Worldwide Dead Tree Press has already fingered global warming as the culprit, steeped in ignorance, as they are, about the ancient history of fire in Oz:

Bushfires and global warming: is there a link?

by David Adam and Ellen Connolly, The Guardian, Feb 8, 2009 [here]

Scientists have a hunch rising temperatures due to human activity are making fire and flood more likely

Scientists are reluctant to link ­individual weather events to global warming, because natural variability will always throw up extreme events. However, they say that climate change loads the dice, and can make severe episodes more likely. …

Bob Brown, a senator who leads the Australian Greens, said the bushfires showed what climate change could mean for Australia.

“Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25%, 50% more,” he told Sky News. “It’s a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change.” …

Tackling climate change, however, will not do diddly to prevent bushfires. The climate has changed, dramatically, over the the last 40,000 to 60,000 years, yet Aussie bush fires have persisted throughout all those hoary millennia.

Foresters have a different view. Rather than tackling the chimera of “climate change,” a far more practical approach would be to manage the vegetation in the traditional manner, with prescribed fire. This prescient warning was published last March:

Phil Cheney. 2008. Can forestry manage bushfires in the future? Australian Forestry 2008 Vol. 71 No. 1 pp. 1–2 [here]

… In a strict statistical sense, the west cannot be a basis on which to assess the performance of fire management in the east, but the extensive fires in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory are the result of a change in management, not a change in climate. The term ‘megafire’ has been coined to woo the press and assuage the politicians and support their apparent belief that these events are an act of God and not the result of the evisceration of the land management agencies, as pointed out by Roger Underwood in a previous editorial.

The forestry profession has always had a good appreciation of landscape scale and the management necessary to apply fire, but I believe that even foresters not intimately involved in the practice of prescribed burning have little appreciation of what is involved in applying fire at that scale. Few people recognise the effort required to burn 200,000 ha every year and produce the distribution of fuel of various ages, illustrated in Figure 1, which is necessary to effectively reduce the impact of wildfire. …

Unhappily I conclude that Australian forestry has abandoned fire management. This should of course be the responsibility of the conservation agencies — who now manage a substantial proportion of our public lands — as it is in WA. If the trend in Victoria extends elsewhere and fire management is placed it in the hands of the politicians and their emergency services organisations that focus on suppression by back-burning from strategic firebreaks, we can expect that large areas will be burnt severely in summer, perpetuating the myth of megafires.

Rather than set up the organisation and training for an effective prescribed burning program, it is far easier, I guess, to attribute the bushfires to God and climate change.

We can wring our hands and rail against the gods like savages, or we can take up the firestick and manage our landscapes like clever humans have been doing for tens of thousands of years.

Shall we pontificate in rotundas, or put our boots on the ground and do the job?

Shall we quiver in fear like powerless rodents as the megafires sweep away our forests, watersheds, towns, and cities? Or shall we lift our rears off our couches, resume our role as the Caretakers of our planet, and actively apply age-old wisdom?

Make no mistake about it; your life depends on how you answer that question.

8 Feb 2009, 1:19pm
by Tallac

Update: death toll reaches 108.

Unbelievable that some are blaming AGW and not the fuels or the arsonists [at least 9 fires have reportedly been set by arsonists]..

Truly sad to hear this, and to see entire towns wiped-out.




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